Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roy Orbison Wrapped In Pretty Paper (1963)

Well let's keep those Christmas tunes coming!

Today's track was written by country music legend Willie Nelson. In the early 1960's, Nelson was in Nashville trying to start his own country music recording career, but without much success. He was, however able to get a job writing music for other country stars of the day. Some Willie Nelson penned hits of that period were 1963's "Night Life" by Ray Price, "Funny How Time Slips Away" by Billy Walker in 1962, and perhaps his most famous tune, "Crazy" by Patsy Cline from 1961.

The Christmas themed track today is "Pretty Paper", written by Willie Nelson and originally performed by the great Roy Orbison. It was released as a single around Christmas time back in 1963, and eventually made it on to an album with 'More Of Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits' a year later in 1964.
I have always loved the Orbison sound, and this song is no exception. The soaring voice by Orbison combined with the colorful lyrics by Nelson combined to create a great holiday tune.

Willie Nelson eventually went on to have his own successful recording career, riding the great Outlaw Movement in country music of the late 60's and early 70's. This era in country music gave us greats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and even Bob Dylan for a short while.

Throughout his career, Willie Nelson has often revisited his songwriting from those early-years. In fact when Nelson recorded his own Christmas album in 1979, the title track of the album was his old song "Pretty Paper".

So click the link below to hear a great pop/rock/country collaboration on a Christmas song.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The 4 Seasons Say Santa's Coming (1962)

I should admit I have been slightly obsessed with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons lately. While I was in Reno a couple weeks back, I watched a program highlighting a slew of current Broadway shows. There were live performances from 'Billy Elliot' and 'Rock of Ages' as well as taped segments about upcoming theater events (The Spiderman Musical looks pretty cool if they can get it off the ground).

One of these spots that left the biggest impression on me was the promo for 'Jersey Boys'. In fact, I've had The Four Seasons' 1975 hit "Who Loves You" stuck in my head for weeks now.

The 'Jersey Boys' Broadway show tells the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and their rise to fame in popular music in the 1960's. I was first introduced to Frankie Valli's singing as a kid when we would listen and dance to the 'Grease Soundtrack' in my sister's downstairs bedroom.

Frankie Valli sang the title song to 'Grease' called "Grease Is The Word". Later in life I discovered that particular track was extra-cool, having been written by Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees. How could someone not love a mash up of Bee Gees' songwriting and Four Seasons' singing?

Today's track is the Christmas tune "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" but is sung in the classic Four Seasons' style. The song came off of their 1962 holiday album, brilliantly titled 'The 4 Seasons Greetings'. The album was later re-released in 1966 with the more obvious sounding name, 'The Four Seasons' Christmas Album'.

The Four Season's Christmas record came out a mere three months after the release of their first real album, a compilation of all their early 60's singles called 'Sherry & 11 Others'. In fact the main reason I like this version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" so much is that it reminds me a lot of their 1962 hit songs "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry".

So click the link to hear The Four Seasons singing about Santa's pending arrival. And here's hoping I get to see 'Jersey Boys' in the new year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clarence Carter Is The Back Door Santa (1968)

The foot of snow outside and the evergreen tree in my living room can mean only one thing. It's time for some Christmas tunes.

Today's track comes from the R&B and soul singer Clarence Carter. Carter is often compared to both Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles (mainly because he is also a blind soul singer) but to me Carter always had a roughness in his voice and a blues sound that reminded me more of Muddy Waters or Otis Redding.

I first became familiar with Clarence Carter several years back when I first heard the song "Patches" on a soul compilation album. Not knowing anything about the artist, I was immediately hooked on his sound and his colorful lyrics. How could anyone not love a song that starts out "I was born and raised down in Alabama, on a farm way back up in the woods; I was so ragged that folks used to call me Patches."

Luckily, a short while after discovering the song "Patches", my local public library decided to sell off most of their existing vinyl collection, and I ended up with about six or seven Clarence Carter albums (among many others). Among them was the 1968 album Testifyin' which contained today's Christmas tune.

The track is "Back Door Santa" and if you are not familiar with the song, you may still recognize the beat. The song was sampled by hip-hop pioneers Run D.M.C. in their hit song "Christmas In Hollis" which appeared on the first 'A Very Special Christmas' album back in 1987.

That Run D.M.C. song was also used in the opening sequence to the first 'Die Hard' film, which is probably one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time.

So click the link below, to hear Clarence Carter be called a Back Door Santa, and I hope your holidays are pretty happy so far.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gladys Knight Says Thank You (1973)

Well, I'm about a week late on my Thanksgiving-themed post, but I figure better late then never. That big Turkey Day is all about giving thanks, so I thought I would choose a great cover song that says "Thanks" with one of the catchiest rhythm and beats out there.

The song is "Thank You"and it was originally preformed by the legendary funk group Sly & The Family Stone back in 1969. This song, with the whimsical sub-title "Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin" went on to be a #1 hit for the group and is considered one of the first songs to demonstrate the evolution of R&B music into Funk.

The track to this day stands as one of Sly & The Family Stone's greatest hits, which is fitting that the song itself only debuted as a single; and only found its way onto an album with Sly's release of "Greatest Hits" in 1970.
The song itself is such a classic that it has been covered by numerous artists, among them The Jackson 5 and more recently The Dave Matthews Band.

But today's track comes from the classic Motown group Gladys Knight & The Pips. This version of the song comes from their 1973 album 'All I Need Is Time'.
This album contains a few good tracks, but it was overshadowed at the time by their next album (released just three months later--They really pumped them out fast in those days) 'Imagination' which contained the dynamite track "Midnight Train To Georgia".

So let's all say "Thank You" at this time of year for great music. And click the link below to here Gladys Knight and those pesky Pips giving thanks.

P.S. Stay tuned for some great Christmas tracks starting next week!